Chiang M., Cinquin A., Paz A., Meeds E., Price C.A., Welling M., Cinquin O. BMC Biology 13:51 (2015)
BACKGROUND: Stem cells are thought to play a critical role in minimizing the accumulation of mutations, but it is not clear which strategies they follow to fulfill that performance objective. Slow cycling of stem cells provides a simple strategy that can minimize cell pedigree depth and thereby minimize the accumulation of replication-dependent mutations. Although the power of this strategy was recognized early on, a quantitative assessment of whether and how it is employed by biological systems is missing.
RESULTS: Here we address this problem using a simple self-renewing organ – the C. elegans gonad – whose overall organization is shared with many self-renewing organs. Computational simulations of mutation accumulation characterize a tradeoff between fast development and low mutation accumulation, and show that slow-cycling stem cells allow for an advantageous compromise to be reached. This compromise is such that worm germ-line stem cells should cycle more slowly than their differentiating counterparts, but only by a modest amount. Experimental measurements of cell cycle lengths derived using a new, quantitative technique are consistent with these predictions.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings shed light both on design principles that underlie the role of stem cells in delaying aging and on evolutionary forces that shape stem-cell gene regulatory networks.